It is interesting that despite shortages of metal, rubber and fabric during the war years, corsets remained an essential part of women’s clothing ration.
Indeed, corsets were advertised as being patriotic for several reasons:
- They gave women a shapely figure, encouraging them (and their husbands) to feel better and keep their spirits up
- They helped women perform physically demanding work, by supporting the back and muscles, while allowing movement due to “new technologies”
- They helped women look trim and fit in uniform, again encouraging everyone to keep their spirits up
- They were designed with hidden pockets since women in uniform were not permitted to carry handbags, and jacket pockets were too easy to pickpocket in blackouts
During the war, in nations such as Britain and Australia, clothing was one of many things that was rationed to ensure supplies were available for the length of the war, and to allow essential materials such as rubber, steel and silk to be diverted to the war effort. In Britain, the clothing allowance per adult was initially 66 coupons a year, but fell to 48 coupons a year mid-war, then as low as 36 a year by 1945. Ration coupons for clothing were issued as late as 1949, as British industry struggled to return to pre-war output. To buy a corset cost between 3 and 5 coupons plus a sum of cash.
Women sometimes made their own corsets using patterns in magazines.
To allow essential materials such as steel and rubber to be saved for the war effort, zippers, hook and eyes and steel boning and some elastic panels were dropped and old fashioned lacing made a return. In the photos below, the black arrows point to places where lacing allows the wearer to tighten the garment.
The War Office took an interest in the corsets of its female volunteers and employees, employing British corsetier Berlei to produce corset designs that would allow for movement and support under uniforms, based on the famous line that “these women must be corseted – and corseted correctly!”.
One and two piece corset sets of the early war years were designed to give a “slight waist, uplifted bust, and controlled torso”. Indeed, the corsets worn by ladies when in “civvies” or “mufti” non-uniform dress were designed to give a 22-inch waist with pronounced bust and hips, using elastic materials, firm lace and net, satin and batiste. If I can get down to a 22 inch waist in my corset one day in the next few years, I’ll be ecstatic!
You may have noticed above that some of the advertisements refer to girdles – this is because war-time corsets usually took the form of either a one piece corset with built in bra, or a two piece “bra and girdle” set, where the girdle came up high on the waist almost to the bra band, much like an old fashioned corset. Despite advances in technologies and changes in the roles of women in society, corsetry remained a major part of women’s wear for the whole of the war years.